Wilkes University


Wilkes University Student Pharmacist Kayla Hiryak Awarded AFPE Gateway to Research Scholarship

Wilkes University student pharmacist Kayla Hiryak of Boyertown, Pa., was awarded the American Foundation for Pharmaceutical Education Gateway to Research Scholarship for her research. Hiryak worked with mentor Adam VanWert, associate professor of pharmaceutical sciences, on her project entitled, “Synthetic Biological Approach to Treating Calcium Oxalate Kidney Stones.” Hiryak was one of 16 winners out of hundreds of nominees from across the country and the first Wilkes student to receive the award.

Hiryak’s collaborative research has benefited from major contributions by Wilkes faculty William Terzaghi, professor of biology, and Del Lucent, assistant professor of biophysics.  The team of professors was awarded the Interdisciplinary Teaching Award at Wilkes in 2016 as a result of involvement of students from diverse disciplines in the project.

Hiryak is investigating new approaches to prevent and treat calcium oxalate-based kidney stones.  While kidney stones are common, and often excruciating for individuals who have them, research in this area is not as popular as that in more life-threatening diseases. About half of the oxalate in the blood and urine is from diet, indicating that blocking intestinal absorption is a promising therapeutic strategy. Taking a multifaceted approach, Hiryak is working on two different therapeutic strategies to attack oxalate absorption.  First, she is growing cells that have a human oxalate transporter, thereby allowing her to test potential methods to block this route of absorption.  Second, she has synthesized a molecule at Wilkes that is proving to be a strong oxalate binder.  Hiryak and the other members of the research team hope that one of these strategies will develop into a viable therapeutic option in the future for afflicted patients.

“Here at Wilkes University I was given the opportunity to incorporate pharmacy into the 'science' I have always loved,” Hiryak said. “The excitement of being involved in research never fades and almost three years later, I am honored to receive an award that highlights the amazing project we have been working on.”

The award of $5,000 will be used directly to defray Hiryak’s tuition. Winners were selected based on the criteria of faculty recommendation, superior academic performance, relevant research topic, comprehensive mentoring plan, submitted letters of recommendation and shown interest in scientific research.

According to the American Foundation for Pharmaceutical Education, “the Gateway to Research Scholarship program is to help students gain an understanding of the importance of research by enabling them to apply that knowledge to improve their clinical skills.” The program allows students to improve their communication with patients and medical team members, making them more prepared for careers in the healthcare workforce.

About the Nesbitt School of Pharmacy

The Nesbitt School of Pharmacy, which is the region’s only school of pharmacy, celebrated the 20-year anniversary in 2016 of its first graduating class receiving the doctor of pharmacy degree.  The school’s mission is to develop pharmacists who will provide high quality health care and make meaningful contributions to the science and practice of pharmacy. The school awards the doctor of pharmacy degree, the primary, entry-level pharmacy practice degree in the United States.

About Wilkes University:

Wilkes University is an independent institution of higher education dedicated to academic and intellectual excellence through mentoring in the liberal arts, sciences and professional programs. Founded in 1933, the university is on a mission to create one of the great small universities, offering all of the programs, activities and opportunities of a large, research university in the intimate, caring and mentoring environment of a small, liberal arts college, at a cost that is increasingly competitive with public universities. The Economist named Wilkes 25th in the nation for the value of its education for graduates. In addition to 42 bachelor’s degree programs, Wilkes offers 25 master’s degree programs and five doctoral/terminal degree programs, including the doctor of philosophy in nursing, doctor of nursing practice, doctor of education, doctor of pharmacy, and master of fine arts in creative writing. Learn more at www.wilkes.edu.